Bowl or bust.
Seems easy, right? As Tom Allen enters his third season as the IU Head Football Coach the expectation on paper is simple.
Six and six or better is a success, five or fewer victories is a failure. But when diving deeper, it gets more complicated. This might be the most complete football team Indiana has had in the 21st century.
The Hoosiers return talent from all over the field from a year ago, led by Maxwell Award Watchlist member Stevie Scott in the backfield. IU also brings back four of 2018’s top six pass catchers, including perennial deep threats Nick Westbrook and Donavon Hale. Whop Philyor provides a big play threat as a lightning-quick slot receiver, and Ty Fryfogle is an under-the-radar-weapon.
IU also brings back eight returning starters on a more experienced defense.
Marcelino Ball is the glue that keeps the defense together from his husky position, which is a hybrid linebacker and safety position. Ball led the Big Ten in pass breakups among secondary players, led the Hoosiers in tackles for loss last season, and is a former freshman All-American.
Andre Brown, Raheem Lane and Reese Taylor form a really experienced cornerback group to join Ball, while Rawkwon Jones, Thomas Allen, and redshirt freshman James Head will lead the linebackers. Jerome Johnson, the 2018 sack leader and Allan Stallings IV should be forces on the defensive line, and Pro Football Focus preseason All Big Ten First team member Logan Justice, along with punter Haydon Whitehead provide a strong kicking game.
Tom Allen’s recruiting efforts have paid off, as Indiana has seen its annual 247 Sports composite recruiting ranking jump 27 spots from 63 in 2017 to 36 this season. The Hoosiers have also climbed in the Big Ten rankings, moving from 13th to eighth in the 14-team-league in the same time frame.
The 2019 class also produced three of Indiana’s top seven all-time recruits in running back Sampson James, defensive end Beau Robbins and linebacker Cameron Williams. The combination of returning production with young talent can, in theory take the Hoosiers to unprecedented heights.
For the sake of having fun, let's say Indiana had University of Kentucky’s football schedule in 2019. The Wildcats have the benefits of playing in the weaker SEC East and four nonconference cupcake games. Their two SEC West crossover games are rebuilding the University of Arkansas at home and a down Mississippi St University team on the road.
With UK’s schedule, it would be completely reasonable to expect #9WINDIANA just by simply winning those six games along with taking three out of four against Missouri University or the University of Tennessee at home and Vanderbilt University or the University of South Carolina on the road.
However, the NCAA is more likely to pay student-athletes than have balanced scheduling.
Instead, the Hoosiers have a gauntlet of a schedule with a nine game league slate that includes Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State in the Big Ten East every season.
But in 2019, IU also has to travel to Nebraska and face defending Big Ten West champion Northwestern as its two rotating Big Ten West opponents. Add in the Old Oaken Bucket game being played against a rising Purdue program, and it is extremely likely that the Hoosiers will be underdogs in seven games this season.
So where does that leave the expectations for this Hoosier ballclub?
The Hoosiers are talented enough to win seven or eight games this season, but while also having a floor of four victories with Rutgers being their only conference win.
Expectations will vary from person to person, depending on how an individual views the talented roster versus the schedule it will face.
My prediction is a familiar tale: the Hoosiers win their three out-of-league cupcakes, beat Rutgers and Maryland, come close against the Big Four but fail to finish.
The Hoosiers will fall in a pair of heartbreakers to Nebraska and Northwestern and head to West Lafayette, Indiana with their bowl hopes on the line, only to fall to Jeff Brohm and the Boilermakers to again finish five and seven in what would be an infuriating yet in some ways understandable campaign.